An audiophile, a term that comes from the Latin audio "I hear" and Greek philos "loving," is a person who seeks high-quality audio reproduction through using high-end audio electronics. Audiophiles are not necessarily music lovers, but a great many of them do enjoy listening to a variety of sounds and genres of music. They are surely sound lovers who seek the highest quality re-production of musical sound, as close to the original live performance of the music as possible. They will listen to music on CD, MP3, and record, depending on which sounds best for that particular bit of music, video or radio, and they are in search of sounds that are both crisp and clean through a variety of components that are specialized for their listening pleasure. The components include turntable preamplifiers, Digital-to-analog converters, high end speakers, subwoofers, and equalization devices, vacuum tube disc players, preamplifiers and amplifiers.
They pump these sounds through a variety of high-end speakers, wires, systems, and turntables. Audiophiles are concerned with the entire spectrum of music production--from the actual recording of the music to the in-home systems they use to listen to their music. The audiophile is literally obsessed with the quality of sound they hear, and they cultivate their hobby at home, on the internet, specialty music shops, and other musical avenues.
There are several components that are essential to the audiophile, which means that this hobby has the ability to become very pricey. First, there must be a source from which the sound comes, and then the speakers through which the sound travels, and then there are the wires that connect it all for premium sounds and tones.
There are no shortage of accessories for those seeking great sound; at even a quick glance, the choices can overwhelm the mind. These include several source components, amplification components, and two or more loudspeakers. Then there are the shelving and racks, which are specialized for the “sound collector,” available in several varieties to suit the collector’s needs and budgets. This includes the enclosures for the loudspeakers, which can look like simple, big, rectangular box-like structures in their more rudimentary forms, or can become very sophisticated pieces of equipment, depending on what they house (wires, special acoustic components, etc.) The enclosure of the speakers can be as important as the speakers themselves because they will directly effect the reverberation and echo that emanates from the boxes as the sound travels through them.
Also important are power conditioners, which come in a variety of voltages. These power conditioners deliver additional power to the sources to improve the voltage (and ultimately the outcome of the sound) the audiophile receives. In other words, they want the electrical load to match or exceed the electrical capacity of the instruments for sound that they are using, and the power conditioners allow this to happen.
Other equipment that can be important for audiophiles are devices that reduce vibration that can come off of the speakers, record cleaning materials (including brushes, cloths, and even specialized cleaning kits for records that may be damaged or scratched,) phonograph needle cleaning devices, speaker pads, and stands (which one could innovate and build themselves, or purchase in a store or online), and soundproofing materials for the most avid audiophiles. An example of soundproofing materials would include what one generally associates with sound studios used for recording music, such as egg crates or foam materials that pad walls to reduce “buzz” (or vibration) from the lower tones in the sound of the music.
If one has ever heard someone refer to the “acoustics” of a room, then they would already have an understanding of why an audiophile would use soundproofing materials to gain better sound. (Standing waves are the phenomenon that are responsible for resonance.) Therefore, the room that music is played in is nearly as important as the music itself, as the relationship of the sound and the furniture, walls, and floors are all correlated. The quality of sound is effected by the things in the room, though different frequencies respond to different items in the room. Higher frequencies are absorbed by “soft” materials in a room such as carpeting or furniture. By the same token, the “hard” materials in a room like the walls or hardwood floors can cause reverb in the room, or a vibration sensation sometimes also accompanied by sound.
The audiophile will use many sources to play their music. Depending on budget and the sound one is looking for, they may choose from any of the following sources of sound.
Phonograph Record- also known as vinyl, or a record, comes in several varieties of size and versions of sound (mono, stereo, and quadriphonic). What makes records preferable to other types of music sources is that it is a constant sound wave as opposed to the digital files, which are written as code that computers or players deciphers and play back. They also are known for having warm tones and the classic “crackling sound.”
Compact Discs- or CDs have gained popularity as the most common way to get sound of a higher quality. They are not as delicate as their vinyl counterparts, making them less susceptible to damage, and they do not require tedious care as the vinyl sometimes can. CDs utilize “bits” in their makeup, and for audiophiles, the higher the bits, the better and closer the sound is to the original, recorded material that they recreate.
Audio File Formats- or MP3 is stored on a computer, and can be either compressed or uncompressed. This is a cheap, as well as an innovative way to store music, so it can be a great gateway for the new and exploring audiophile. MP3s are available online for download, even for free in some cases (but be very careful not to ever steal music), and represent a shift in music-sharing, though it is not the preferable music format for serious and seasoned audiophiles.
Speakers and Amplifiers
Speakers and amplifiers are very important to the sound-harvesting audiophile, as the quality of these instruments will directly effect the quality of the sound in conjunction with the format of music they choose. A preamplifier has access to several audio inputs, amplifies the signals, and allows the listener to adjust volume and tone controls. Another important piece of the sound experience for an audiophile is the loudspeakers that they use.
The tweeters serve to produce the higher frequency sounds. They are named for the high-pitched sounds that human ears often associate with birds singing, and they come in several varieties, dependent on individual preferences, needs, and budgets. These varieties include cone, dome, piezo, ribbon, and planar-magnetic, electrostatic, AMT, horn, and plasma (or ion) tweeters.
Cone tweeters are very affordable, and were created before the dome tweeters were, so they are evident in many older systems, as well as cheaper systems such as car stereos. Dome tweeters are good for the voice quality they boast. Piezo tweeters convert electrical pulses into mechanical ones, and employ crystals to produce a special, if not complicated, sound.
Ribbon Tweeters are mostly for high power needs. So this type of power would be unnecessary for the home collector looking for good home-quality sound, but ideal for someone looking to expand their breadth of sound to a larger audience, even into the thousands. Planar-magnetic tweeters are quite like the ribbon tweeters, although less expensive and lighter in weight, which may be the draw for some. They also tend to be very akin to the electrostatic tweeter, which is actually a very dated design that is also fairly expensive and not as efficient, although they are capable of higher voltage, a supposed draw for the audience they serve. Another classic design is the AMT tweeter, which works through pushing air. These tweeters are capable of high output levels and are more sturdy than electrostatics or ribbons. For the audiophile seeking efficiency, Horn tweeters have a lot to offer. Lastly there are plasma, or ion tweeters, which an audiophile would perhaps be unlikely to use for several reasons. This type of tweeter puts out ozone, which is harmful to the environment, as well as being rather complicated and largely incapable of large output, a clear drawback for this tweeter. It has also been banned from being imported into the United States, given it’s environmental concerns of emitting ozone, but the intricate nature of the tweeter makes it worth mentioning. A serious audiophile would at least be aware of the presence of such a tweeter as a matter of sound history.
Mid-range speakers are also referred to as “squawkers.” The human sense of sound easily picks up on middle frequencies, making the mid-ranges a cornerstone of good sound, and an important feature of a good collection.
Tweeters are the high sounds, and the woofers are just the opposite, boasting the low set of tones. Just as the tweeters were named for the sounds that birds make in a high-pitched tone, the woofers are named for the low “woof” sound that dogs often produce. They are also distinctive for their cone-like shape.
Though they are responsible for the low sounds in the music, they do not cover the lowest of the low sounds, which are the responsibility of the sub-woofer.
Sub-woofers are the speakers that allow people to hear the lowest of the low sounds. These are typically added to enhance the sound with low bass and higher frequency bass.
Audiophiles also use headphones as a high quality output. Audiophiles are all about the sound, which makes headphones an ideal companion for a beginning or experienced sound enthusiast. They range in price and quality, but are wonderful for use in-home or office, while also making the wonderful sounds of high-quality music portable for the audiophile. They would certainly be essential for the traveling sound enthusiast.
Headphones obviously do not take up the amount of space that large speaker systems would, so for those with limited amounts of home space, especially those in cities with smaller housing situations, the headphones are a space-saving way to enjoy premium sound. Good quality headphones are also a more personal way to experience music in that it need not disturb neighbors, roommates, or sleeping children while you listen as loud as you like.
There are those who would argue that the sounds of headphones are superior to that of speakers, whose components are varied in style, price, and quality. Because headphones are able to contain sound, there is no need for the audiophile to sound-proof or enhance their space to ensure sound quality, which is another appeal for the use of headphones. Most audiophiles, even those with the most prestigious set-ups, own a pair of headphones with which they can enjoy their music. Whether a beginning or longtime audiophile, there is a set of headphones to fit any price range, making them a convenient fit for beginning audiophiles.
How To Learn
Learning to become an audiophile consists of dedication to sound. The beginning element of truly becoming an audiophile is getting a great sound system to listen to your music on. Compiling components of good listening can be rather pricey, but is an investment. A good audiophile would certainly have a multi-channel stereo they can run several types of sound through (television, computer, record player, etc.) in order to get a good feel for the sound.
Getting a great pair of headphones rather than an entire speaker system is a great step for the beginning audiophile because it can be less expensive, and produce a great quality of sound. The headphones also afford you the luxury of listening to certain music over and over to train your ear without driving everyone around you nuts.
A set-up should include the capability to run a wide range of frequencies from high to low; tweeters, woofers, subwoofers, and mid-ranges are all a must. Look into different types of speakers and sources, and decide what budget is within reach for you. Upgrading, for an audiophile, is a constant hobby, so keep in mind that you can always upgrade later, and start a little smaller.
You don’t have to have perfect listening skills to become an audiophile because practicing listening to music will help you learn the skills to define sound. One the best ways to begin is to listen to radio and/or watch movies to hear the quality of sound that you are getting. Once you have a great grasp on those types of sounds, get some music you enjoy and listen to that.
Comparison is a great tool for measure when it comes to sound quality. So, once you have familiarized yourself with versions of your favorite music, try comparing them with cheaper versions and measure the differences between the two. Try sampling different formats of music such as comparing recordings from vinyl to MP3 records.
Listen to music in as many different ways as much as possible. Go to live music of all sorts--from amplified concerts to acoustic jams. Listen to varieties of music to train your ears to hear the differences that different types of live music produce versus their recorded counterparts.
There are also several publications that cater to both the budding and seasoned audiophile, which is a great place to start, especially if you want to learn about building the ultimate sound haven in your home. One such publication is Sound & Vision, which is in wide circulation and a good way to get a mainstream view of the audiophile world. Also talk to people in your community who know about sound and music. Conversation can often be a great tool for learning about new hobbies and interests, and can yield valuable opinions and advice not often available in print. Frequenting places that other sound enthusiasts frequent will be a great learning and networking opportunity for a newbie to the audiophile world, and will allow you to ask questions and perhaps even come across some juicy morsels from an experienced audiophile.
Another fun way to “get into sound” is to play with it, distort it, and get creative. The more ways you hear and understand the sound, the better your chances of being a knowledgable audiophile. DJs are known for playing with the sounds on expensive set-ups, but technological market advances have made sound distortion tools and toys more widely available for a cheaper price. Sound mixing devices are great for playing around with MP3s on your iPod. Other means of playing around with sound include slowing down the music, which is easy on a good record player, adding reverberation, and/ or changing the equalization.
Where To Learn
A great place to learn about becoming an audiophile is on the world wide web. There is a plethora of information about sound systems, recordings, artists, live music, and audiophile discussion boards and forums on the Internet. The community of audiophiles is very diverse, and through various websites like Stereophile you can learn about groups in your area, or join an online group to discuss types of sounds and ways of listening. In the virtual world, there is a limitless amount of information available to those interested in learning about sound and its parts.
Another place to learn about sound is in local music shops where you can find sound magazines, devices, and individuals who are knowledgable about form and function of speakers, players, and their components. Reading is a great forum for learning, but nothing replaces the knowledge you can gain by getting out in your community to learn from people who have experience.
Of course, many audiophiles learn right in their homes as well, as they experience the sounds firsthand through listening to all types of sounds and musical pieces on their home systems. This is part of what makes this hobby realistic and easy for anyone to enjoy--the fact that they can cultivate skills right where they live!
Tips and Tricks
Part of becoming an audiophile is getting out there to experience music and sound in a variety of ways. The more you experience, the more you can train your ears to hear the variations in sound, tone, and quality. So experience is essential for the up and coming audiophile.
Listen often and engage in discussion with people, even those less experienced with sound, to gage your skills and cultivate new ideas on sound quality. If money is a concern, start on the lower end and gradually increase your systems as your budget allows. Being a skilled audiophile will not come all at once, it takes time, experience, and patience.
Audiophiles pride themselves on the quality of sound that they can produce and identify. With so much in sound available, this is a progressive and evolutionary hobby, especially considering the constant breakthroughs in technology. As your skills grow, so will your collection of speakers, sources, and music.
Though it can get a bit pricey, you don’t have to break the bank to get started. Investing in high-quality headphones can be just as musically satisfying as a good speaker system. It is a hobby you can build on as you go, and improve your quality of sound as you become more and more familiar with the available components.
Foster your skills by exploring local music shops, experts, other music and sound enthusiasts, and the Internet sources available. The more you listen, the more you will know. It is a worthwhile hobby that you can easily share with others, whether they are audiophiles or not, which allows you to easily relate and share your skills and knowledge with others around you.